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Posted on Nov 19, 2007 | 38 comments

Making okonomiyaki

Making okonomiyaki

After moving back to the States from Japan years ago, one of the first Japanese foods I craved was okonomiyaki. Essentially a cabbage pancake with a variety of meat or seafood mix-ins and toppings, okonomiyaki is a specialty of Osaka, my old stomping grounds. I’ve got fond memories of little mom & pop okonomiyaki restaurants where customers make their own okonomiyaki at tabletop griddles (photos below), so I set out to recreate the flavors I had there, taught by an Osaka boyfriend’s mom. Okonomiyaki now makes a regular appearance at my table, and I like being able to have a taste of Osaka whenever I like, without depending upon local San Francisco restaurants that don’t make it the way I remember.

Okonomiyaki lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler lunch: Okonomiyaki (my full recipe below) with British-style lean bacon rashers, container of okonomiyaki sauce, grilled salt & pepper shrimp, and sugar peas with oyster sauce.

Morning prep time: 0 minutes, as I packed everything the night before (4 minutes packing time). I had previously made a batch of mini okonomiyaki when making okonomiyaki for dinner, and froze all of the mini okonomiyaki after wrapping each in plastic wrap and placing in a freezer bag. I put a frozen okonomiyaki right in the bento box the night before and let it thaw naturally in the refrigerator, but you could also thaw them quickly in the toaster, toaster oven or microwave.

Packing: I layered the okonomiyaki two deep, tucked the snow peas into a reusable food cup, and put the okonomiyaki sauce into the tomato-shaped sauce container with the squeeze method (pour sauce into a dish, squeeze the sauce container, release your grip on the container with the opening dunked into the sauce, and let suction fill the container. Repeat until full.). Osaka-style okonomiyaki is usually eaten with a variety of condiments (okonomiyaki sauce , Worcestershire sauce, aonori seaweed, katsuobushi bonito flakes, and mayonnaise), but I cut that down to just okonomiyaki sauce to streamline Bug’s eating process at preschool.

Okonomiyaki bento lunch for adult

Verdict: Pretty good. Bug ate both of the okonomiyaki during preschool, but left a shrimp and most of the beans. After school he finished the shrimp and a couple more of the beans. I would feel worse if the okonomiyaki weren’t almost all cabbage…

My husband’s lunch: This lunch from last year is an example of an adult portion of four mini okonomiyaki with all of the condiments I like (okonomiyaki and Worcestershire sauces, aonori, katsuobushi and a mayonnaise packet). Packed in large 940ml mens’-style Dear Label bento box with chopsticks built into the lid (by Asvel), and removable divider (removed to fit the okonomiyaki).Nagaimo, whole and grated

Ingredient spotlight: Nagaimo, or Japanese mountain yam, is thought of as an essential component of Osaka-style okonomiyaki, said to produce a tender end product. (Prepackaged okonomiyaki mixes use dried nagaimo or yamaimo powder for the same effect.) A mountain tuber, nagaimo or yamaimo is often grated and served with raw tuna, rice or soba. Grated nagaimo is called tororo, and has a slimy texture reminiscent of raw egg or chopped okra. I’m not a fan of this texture in general, but the sliminess disappears when it’s cooked in okonomiyaki batter. Sliced raw nagaimo is actually a little crunchy, and I quite like it. Some people develop itchy hands after handling raw nagaimo, so you can either wear rubber gloves or soak the peeled nagaimo in water with vinegar to reduce irritation (also prevents the nagaimo from discoloring). I’m not sensitive to it, so I just handle it normally and wash my hands afterwards. Click for the full okonomiyaki recipe and tutorial…

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I took the photos below on my last trip to Japan, in a little mom & pop okonomiyaki restaurant with built-in tabletop griddles in Osaka’s Shinsekai neighborhood. Note the small bowl that each okonomiyaki was mixed in at the last minute, and two sizes of metal paddles: the large ones are for cooking, and the small ones are for eating with instead of chopsticks if you like. I usually use chopsticks to eat with, but the paddles are fun. To duplicate the tabletop cooking experience, use an electric skillet and turn it into a communal event.

Okonomiyaki in Osaka

 

Osaka-style Okonomiyaki

(serves 4)

  • 20g nagaimo or yamaimo mountain yam, peeled and grated (optional but excellent for texture, see notes above)
  • scant 1.25 cups flour (160g)
  • scant 1.25 cups dashi (190cc) (bonito broth, or water mixed with instant hondashi is fine)
  • scant 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 2/3 cup raw fillings (6 oz or 160g) (thin-sliced bacon, bacon rashers, pork bara, chopped shrimp, squid, octopus, kimchi, cheese, etc.)
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 head of a medium cabbage (14 oz or 400g), cut into 2.5″ long, fine julienne strips as if making cole slaw
  • 1 green onion, chopped (12-20g)
  • 2 Tb dried sakura ebi or suboshi ebi (super-light dried shrimp; I like the sun-dried suboshi ebi for this) (optional)
  • 2 Tb benishoga, chopped (red pickled ginger) (optional)
  • 1 cup tenkasu (crunchy fried tempura batter bits; if unavailable, substitute Rice Krispies cereal) (40g or 240ml)
  • Condiments as you like: Okonomiyaki sauce, Worcestershire sauce, aonori, katsuobushi (dried shaved bonito) , Kewpie mayonnaise , or even a bit of karashi hot mustard mixed into the okonomiyaki sauce if you like it spicy.
  1. If you have nagaimo or yamaimo, grate it finely until it’s a gooey paste. I used a textured oroshigane grater I usually use for daikon radish (shown above), but you can also use the fine side of a box grater.
  2. In a medium bowl, add the flour to the dashi bonito stock and whisk together well. Add grated nagaimo and mix to incorporate, then add baking powder and whisk well until there are no lumps and the batter is slightly elastic. Set the batter aside while you prep the rest of the okonomiyaki.
  3. Okonomiyaki batterRemove the tough center of the cabbage, and cut into a fine julienne (2.5″ long). Place shredded cabbage into a large bowl, and top with the cracked eggs, batter, green onion, beni shoga, sakura ebi and tenkasu. DO NOT MIX THIS UP until right before you’re ready to put it on the hot griddle– you don’t want the liquid in the batter to deflate the crunchy tenkasu and make it soggy. The tenkasu is there to lighten up the okonomiyaki; if the batter is mixed ahead of time you’ll wind up with an end product that’s too dense.
  4. Add any chopped fillings you’re using (shrimp, squid, etc.) right to the bowl with everything else, but if you’re using any sliced bacon or pork, cut into 2″ to 3″ strips and reserve on a separate dish to put on top of the ‘pancake’ during cooking.
  5. Heat a nonstick or cast iron griddle or large frying pan over medium high heat.
  6. When the griddle is hot (approx. 430 deg. F or 220 deg. C), use a spoon to mix together the ingredients in the bowl, scooping from the bottom to the top in order to thoroughly combine everything. Lightly oil the griddle with vegetable oil (cooking oil spray like Pam is fine, or coat a paper towel with vegetable oil and use tongs or chopsticks to grease the griddle with the oiled paper).Mini okonomiyaki
  7. Turn the mixture out onto the griddle in whatever sizes you like (large for dinner, mini for bento lunches, or a combination for both), keeping them about 1.5″ thick. Use the back of the spoon to gently pat the mixture down and spread it out into a circle, tidying up any stray cabbage bits. If using bacon or sliced pork as a topping, lay several on top of the pancake, and top with katsuobushi. The katsuobushi topping is optional, but I find that it’s helpful to deliciously protect lean pork or bacon rashers that don’t need to render as much fat as regular bacon.
  8. Leave the pancakes alone until they’re lightly browned on the bottom. Gently flip them over, using two spatulas at once if the pancakes are large, and reduce heat to medium-low. Leave them alone for 5 minutes to allow the cabbage to cook through — don’t move them as they’re very delicate at this stage and will break apart.
  9. Once they’ve developed a nice golden brown crust on the bottom, flip them over once again and cook until the bottom is nicely browned.
  10. Remove to a plate and serve immediately, then sauce as you like at the table. The most basic condiments would be okonomiyaki sauce, aonori and katsuobushi, but many like to put a little Worcestershire sauce on the okonomiyaki first and top it all of with a squeeze of Kewpie mayonnaise. If you topped the okonomiyaki with katsuobushi during cooking, you might want to cut back or eliminate additional katsuobushi topping at the end.

38 Comments

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  1. Oh god, Osaka really makes the best okonomiyaki and takoyaki.
    I miss it. I’m in Kyoto prefecture, countryside and they seem to make it the same but there’s not as much variety or interesting flavors. I like to add bacon to my own. This is a really great recipe, thanks. I’m gonna try to make it tomorrow.

  2. Thank you for this recipe! I have wanted to find other recipes for cabbage besides Colcannon.

  3. I can’t wait to try this!!!

  4. Very cool. I’ll have to try these at a restaurant (I get wary of making things I’ve never eaten before because then I don’t know if I’ve made it right!). Great pics :)

  5. Oh I love okonomiyaki!! I used to stomp around Osaka too, commuted from Kyoto. That was an adventure in itself but grew used to it. I stuff whatever into okonomiyaki these days, every so often doing it traditionally as to remember how.

  6. And here I thought I was a freak for taking okonomiyaki for lunch… I guess not! Thanks for the inspiration :)

  7. @1 from Jessant: I had some pretty good fusion okonomiyaki in Osaka a few years back — they’re definitely creative!

  8. @2 from Laural: I use cabbage in yakisoba as well, but okonomiyaki uses it in much larger quantities. I thought that my bottleneck would be in having nagaimo around, but it turns out that it keeps for a long time when wrapped in the fridge. Just cut off any discolored oxidized bits where it’s been peeled, peel just enough to grate, and there you go!

  9. @3 from Deanna: I hope it turns out for you, Deanna!

  10. @5 from Jessica: How funny, I used to live in Osaka and commute out to Moriguchi — opposite pattern.

  11. @6 from Miyuki Mouse: If you’re a freak, you’ve got lots of company! Just last week, one of my good Japanese friends at my son’s (immersion) preschool was talking about packing little okonomiyaki in her son’s bento recently, which made me crave it (thus this post).

  12. @11 Biggie, Initially we lived in the area of Momoyama before moving to Fushimi Inari. My (then)-husband was post-doc at Kyodai while I did temp jobs. Having a slight tendency for fear of overcrowding (not phobia, just you know, rather not), I finally found a job in an office close to the fish market. I still miss those fish, we never got any scent and I could scroll through for dinner. I have never been so thin as in those years living there…

    Can you recall where you got the Asvel box for your husband?

  13. @13 from Jessica: I got the Asvel box for my husband locally in San Francisco at Kamei on Clement Street for something like $12 or $14 (don’t remember). Quality is good, and the flaps on the side don’t have actual hinges or moving parts (hard to break).

    Japan is great for getting thin — you’re walking all the time using public transportation, restaurant portions are small, and people tell you outright if you gain even 2 pounds (a mixed blessing).

  14. This is a response for Laura. If you want to expand your cabbage recipes, there’s a great hungarian dish where slice onions and cabbage and then saute them in butter until glossy had just enough water to steam cook until tender then add sour cream (if being authentic) or yogurt if not, unti creamy then serve over egg noodles. Super yummy. Sometimes I add either shredded carrot or sliced kale for color and of course lots of pepper.

  15. Oooooo I heart okonomiyaki!

  16. ive yet to try okonomiyaki…
    must try in the next food trip..
    any recommended combinations or “fillings”

    is this the japanese pizza i’ve heard and read about?

  17. @16 from Cindy: Okonomiyaki’s good stuff, isn’t it? :-)

  18. @17 from kat: Hmm, my favorite fillings would be either straight pork (“buta-tama”) or a mix of seafood with pork (“mikkusu”). If you’re in a good okonomiyaki place, definitely also try “modan-yaki”, which is basically Osaka-style okonomiyaki with yakisoba fried noodles on top.

  19. wow! okonomiyaki with fried noodles…kinda like the chinese fried noodles topped with vegetables…

  20. Dear Biggie!
    Greetings again!
    Robert-Gilles from Shizuoka City.
    Although okonomiyaki originally hails from Osaka, it is popular almost everywhere in Japan!
    Now, this is an excellent way to fool and please children into eating more vegetables as you may well mix the cabbage with other thin or shredded vegetables!
    Cheers,
    Robert-Gilles

  21. We had excellent okonomiyaki during a recent stay in Shizuoka. I’ve been meaning to find a good recipe to try at home ever since. I especially liked your tip about substituting rice krispies for the tempura bits. I would have just left them out otherwise!

  22. @24 from Robert-Gilles Martineau: It hadn’t occurred to me to mix other shredded veggies in with the cabbage to get kids to eat healthy — thanks for the tip! Carrots would be a natural; what else have you tried?

  23. @25 from Mike: Let us know how the rice krispies work out for you; they should keep everything light and not so dense…

  24. I heard that you could have an egg on top as well. At what point would you put it on?

  25. @28 from anna: Ah, that’d be Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, which is made in layers. While I’ve had that style before, it’s not something I make at home.

  26. I’m glad to see another okonomiyaki fan! I went to three Asian foodstores to find tonsaku sauce and Japanese mayo for it!

  27. @30 from jaci: Welcome from deviant art! Okonomiyaki was one of the first things I craved when I moved back. Glad you were able to find sauce and Kewpie mayo!

  28. I totally DID try to follow your recipe, but I kinda went off in a tangent ^_^;

    I blame it on being sick!

    Anyway, I picked up some okonomiyaki flour that had the dashi and a few other things mixed in. Decided to use diced up octopus and prawns, and beat 2 eggs in with flour, with a bit of water and some light soy sauce. Mixed it up til it had that gooey gluey consistancy.

    Cut up the cabbage and dunked that in, ditto with the prawns/octopus, then added a small handful of aonori. Mixed it up then got cooking.

    They turned out ok, different tasting, but I liked it :)

    Probably not “proper” okonomiyaki but I made 4 out of this lot but could only eat 3 so have left those for lunch tomorrow.

    Decided to not put in the tenkasu because I figured that would send my points up the roof… I’m on Weight Watchers, so right now busy trying to point all this XD

    p.s. SO GLAD I splurged a lil (pardon the pun) and got the Kewpie mayonnaise!

  29. @36 from Zeb: Your okonomiyaki looks good! Do you not like katsuobushi or aonori? Just curious.

  30. Hey Biggie! Thanks for the response :)
    I like aonari well enough but for some reason I decided to put it IN the batter for the okonomiyaki, instead of just on top!

    As for the katsuobushi, forgot. Plain and simply forgot to put it on before putting the sauce on! I’ve had it heaps with store bought takoyaki and love it plenty, but right now my mind is having trouble remembering some things, probably because I have a cold XD

    Thankyou! Hopefully the more I experiment, the better I’ll get at it. Going to mix up the rest of the okonomiyaki mix this afternoon and make mini ones to take for lunch this week.
    Also try out my new takoyaki griddle :D

    Quick question, how do okonomiyaki and takoyaki taste cold with the sauces on top? I do have a microwave I have at work but I would rather not fuss around with taking them out of my box, microwaving them then putting them back in again!

  31. @38 from Zeb: Okonomiyaki and takoyaki don’t taste AS good cold as hot, but they’re fine at room temp because of all of the strongly flavored sauces and accompaniments.

  32. Thanks Biggie :)
    I’ll probably take the bento box out of the fridge an hour before I’m ready to eat to let everything get to room tempreture!

  33. Question. I’m not so familiar with freezing rules, but lets say I buy some pre-frozen shrimp from the supermarket for my Okonomiyaki. So I cook up the Okonomiyaki and then I freeze it again. Can that be unfrozen a second time since I cooked the shrimp? And does the same apply to prefrozen chicken? Sorry for the dumb questions but I figure if anyone knows it will be you.

  34. Hi Biggie,

    Thank for the great recipe. I’m ready to go shopping for cooking okonomiyaki, but only have a question. I don’t see any salt in the recipe? Is it the way it is?

    Thank you.

  35. I love your blog. The dishes look practical and delicious. I wonder if you put the boxes in some kind of thermal bag to keep its contents warm

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